Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Tag: Improving workplace motivation

Getting the Cows to the Barn; Thoughts on Alignment and Performance

I am NOT saying that employees are cows.

Just the opposite, actually. Well, guess I am not sure what the opposite of a cow would be, but I have always been focused on issues of people and performance and looking for ideas and approaches to generate improved alignment and results.

Square Wheels image of Lego Team

In a LinkedIn discussion about motivation and alignment, I remembered an analogy that old friend Ken Junkins used when we were talking about people and motivation, so I thought to share it in that discussion as well as pop it into the blog. Here is the rough storyline as to how I remember Ken using the story of herding cows back 30 years ago…

I am reminded of the herd of cows wandering aimlessly in the pasture. You, the manager, need to get them to the barn, so how do you do that?

Some managers will go out and get their supervisors to shoot guns and ride around the back with horses, yelling and screaming. That will get some of the cows to move away from them, (hopefully toward the barn). But, it will not be a successful enterprise unless you have lots of those herders and those herders are all sharing the same goal of moving the cows toward the barn within a certain amount of time.

Another approach is to get some sweet feed and sprinkle it out on the ground between the herd and the barn. Not many of the cows will know it is even there, but the ones that do will begin to move in your desired direction.

As those cows move, more of the others will wonder what is going on and begin to also move in that direction. With some gentle prodding from the management team, after the cows are beginning to go in the right direction, the herders at the back can begin to gently motivate the laggards, at least getting their attention that something is happening.

It is a slow process and not nearly as much fun as riding around fast and shooting guns and yelling and screaming. But you will have more contented cows and need a lot less management overhead to get them to where you want to go…

Ya think?

You can read more on my metaphors of herding here, with a pretty funny and well-linked article on herding cats and frogs. Click on the image to go there.

Herding Cats - EDS Commercial

Managing and motivating people is seen to be a difficult task. Some people believe that aversive control and punishment are the best rewards, most likely because they think that this approach is what motivates them. (That is probably not true, but it is a belief.) The research shows pretty clearly that intrinsic motivation generated through teamwork, alignment, good feedback systems and congruent values is much more effective that extrinsically-driven approached.

Extrinsic rewards may work, and they may work better for some people than for others, but they are not generally effective over the long term.  And the use of aversive control generates all sorts of problems. (See the article on sabotage and defense, aversive control and punishment by clicking on the icon below)

Defense with © Square Wheels Image

The two articles linked to the illustrations share a good bit of research data about motivating and aligning people toward workplace improvement. I trust that they may stimulate some thoughts about what you might try do to differently or that they will confirm some of the things you choose to do now.

Let me update this with one other video, not about herding cows but about herding sheep. With the proper environment and the right support (think of a few well-trained sheep dogs to keep things under control, as you might with a few well trained and supportive and aligned supervisors), you CAN move sheep seamlessly. This is an amazing and lovely video that Tim Whittaker allowed me to share:

Herding sheep video

So, we CAN generate alignment and communal performance. We can move organizations forward with proper planning and training (and maybe some hiring). We can generate innovation and improvement.

Please note that we sell some simple to use tools for generating engagement and alignment at the front lines or for use in strategy implementation frameworks.

Square Wheels images by Scott Simmerman

And you have some fun out there, too.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

You can reach Scott at
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group



People are our Most Important Asset – Seriously? Yes, seriously!

How many companies state that “people are the most important asset” to their organization’s success. Well, I guess years ago, that was a much more common statement in their missions and more of a reality. Today, we do not hear that kind of thing all that much, maybe because of all the cognitive dissonance it creates. But it is STILL true!

Maybe the shift started back during the “Re-Engineering Days” 0f old whereby so many larger organizations were cutting headcount left and right. A LOT of people were leaving the workforce, some of them being older employees seeing handwriting on the wall and taking the severance packages that were being offered. Headcounts were dropping in a wide variety of industries with the goal of improving profitability.

These days, we see lots of statistics that infer that so many people working in so many places may not be feeling like Most Important Assets (MIA) of their companies.

As reported in other blogs of mine and here,  there is really good data to support the reality that people ARE Most Important Assets (but that many are found to be that other MIA: Missing In Action):

This from Gallup (2012) with 1.4 million people and almost 50,000 organizations:  Employee engagement  and involvement affects performance results. Compared with bottom-quartile groups, top-quartile performing engaging organizations have:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 28% less shrinkage
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer patient safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
  • 10% higher customer metrics
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

Stats show 85% of employees report their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job (from Sirota Survey Intelligence), and

49% of workers say they constantly have their antennae out for new job opportunities — even when they are happy in their current position. 

Few feel their current employer is giving them a fair deal in terms of advancement opportunities (Kelly survey). There are all sorts of fairness in compensation issues and many people self-report that they could actually do a good  bit more each day if they wanted to!

There are just so many things we can do to better involve and engage people in workplace improvement, innovation and customer service quality improvement. The challenge is getting our front-line supervisors and managers to better understand the issues and opportunities and to simply choose to do some things differently.

Here are a few little ditties around this theme, with each of these images linked to some other writings about people and performance:

Square Wheels One - brain in your head poem

Square Wheels One - Leading Philosophy

Square Wheels One - Always do what always done border

Wheel Playing haiku wheels image

Square Wheels - Celebration is key to success

We use cartoons like the above as tools for generating discussion and involvement, finding that through discussions of how things are working, we can generate employee engagement and a lot more intrinsic motivation for workplace improvement. For this purpose, we sell a variety of leadership development tools and facilitation skills support packages, in the hopes that supervisors can work more effectively with their people.

See more of our products here at our website on Performance Improvement.

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.


Kill The Paperwork – Improve Effectiveness

Who out there among us does not have too much “paperwork” or “paperwork responsibilities?” How can you improve morale and motivation? How can you improve efficiencies and engagement? How do you keep things in balance?

Balance Easy Peasy poem

There are some pretty good ideas out there about how to make lemonade out of lemons, how we can improve effectiveness and impact and improve organizational effectiveness. It is not about inventing new solutions but about understanding the issues and the opportunities.

Here are a couple of ideas from my experiences on organizational improvement that you might adapt to your own purposes.

1 – Accountability

Working in a big organization with a great president, he and I were focused on organizational results and people and performance. We had 126 retail stores with all sorts of problems and an awful culture under the former president. It was clear that “staff” had the power and we were not focused on many of the right things — one indicator was that our store manager turnover was more than 250%! We had inventory problems, service quality issues, bad morale, high “inventory loss” problems, etc.

In talking with store managers, it was clear that they were overburdened with things. WAY too many forms and “immediate priorities” to handle rather than focusing on actual store operations, so we looked for ways to impact that. As Senior VP Operations, I pretty much immediately tried to clone the 13 young District Managers into my kind of people, changing their perceived role as forensic accountants into performance facilitators and coaches.

Lou asked his admin, Becky, to start a clandestine investigation herself — she was charged with collecting every single bit of information sent from the departments to the stores, filing it by Department and by Day. Two 3-ring binders that quickly filled up. We basically got a grip on the amount of paperwork sent each day to the stores and the demands that were being made of store managers for reports, etc.

The “All Department Head Meeting” that Lou directed was most interesting. This was the first time that anyone saw how much paper we shipped to stores — it was inches a week. Some was simply “policy information to read” from personnel or marketing. Other stuff was weekly order sheets for inventory. Some was requesting information of one kind or another, and always under a couple-of-days deadlines. Some were sent to all stores asking that only some stores respond. Anyone could type something up and send it to ALL stores.

The product group might send out an inch of paper a day — since some of the people were sharing news of the industry and what’s hot kind of stuff. It was eye-opening how many of these missives were three or four pages long. Nobody at corporate had a clue as to how much stuff was being sent out…

New Policy: One Page Memos, tightly written: Specific reasons for sending. Stores not needing information were not to get lazily copied. And, random reviews of all memos by Lou and me and Barbara (VP Stores). If the memo needed more than one page, it required special approval to send from Lou (there were few of those, as a result!).

The impact was amazing. Stores were being unburdened by “things to do and stuff to read” and managers could now find time to actually look at what was happening, manage store inventories, train new hires on best practices, and actually focus on customers! Manager morale went up immediately!

Note: This example occurred BEFORE today’s email system was established and, in today’s world, the onslaught of being overly burdened with too much email happens all of the time. Therefore, whether it was paperwork needing attended then or email needing to be read and responded to today, it can all be better managed and the volume turned down.

Suggestion: Have some simple and direct conversations with your operations people about what kinds of things distract them from accomplishing their jobs, their MAIN jobs. Minimize distractions and allow focus on primary issues and opportunities..

2 – Responsibility

Team building with the top management group of a manufacturing operation in Texas, we asked these Department Heads what kinds of things prevented them from doing their jobs most effectively. A bunch of things were discussed, with some Best Practice solutions offered by their associates. Many of them were unintentional inter-departmental kinds of issues, with non-congruent measurement systems interfering with collaboration, for example.

The most interesting were the external influences. A while back, their organization had been acquired in a merger and there were now “executives back in Cleveland” who were asking for things. A Department Head might get a memo asking them to complete this or that data analysis within three days, for example, something that required a scramble to get done and distract that manager from the job at hand.

With the Plant Manager sitting there listening, the complaints about this kind of thing were numerous. So, he made a pretty surprising Policy Decision. From that point on, any request from Corporate that was not an obvious priority or that was not aligned with the plant’s goal of Producing Product was secondary to plant operations and could be ignored or rejected.

If that corporate person justified the importance of the request and gave a reasonable deadline that did not interfere, fine well and good. But any “stupid request” should be forwarded to the Plant Manager and probably tabled. After all, the goal was production and not production of paperwork! The Plant Manager said that he would handle the politics and that Corporate would need to develop relationships with the Department Heads to build some teamwork.

A year later, I checked back and this actually worked extremely well. If some analyst really needed data and it had an impact on the company, they could get what they needed. If they were just “making some report,” they needed to do more than send some demand letter. The Plant Manager, after all, was responsible for generating operating profitability and  not “reports for some clerk,” as he put it!

Suggestion: Look closely at what Staff requests or requires from Operations and be sure that there is an alignment to the Mission and Goals for all of that. Staff needs to support Operations and not vice versa.

Square Wheels Toolkits are a simple and effective way to generate discussions on what things are not working smoothly and what ideas exist that could make improvements in the journey forward. Check out our performance improvement support products on the website and sign up to receive the blog posts at the right.

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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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